By  on January 31, 2012

BERLIN — Jeans brands continue to branch out from basics, hoping color will still drive the market while testing the waters with patterned and darker styles, trouser silhouettes and a concerted effort to expand beyond bottoms with items like dresses and outerwear.

At the Bread & Butter and Premium trade shows held from Jan. 18 to 20, and at various freestanding exhibitions throughout the city, manufacturers dabbled with more stretch, even for nonskinny silhouettes, and lower-rise models. A number promoted new items built around the theme of environmental sustainability. While euro zone and other continental European economic concerns created caution, both retailers and vendors agreed Berlin’s energy started the season on a good note.

Describing herself as excited about fall trends, Sophie Bocquet, managing director for Citadium department stores in Paris, said, “Rust was the color this season. I found it in shoes, in dresses and in denim. I found great accessories and chambray shirts. Some trends, especially in men’s wear, were the same as last season but there were a lot of colors out there for fall, even for outerwear.” Her stores’ assortment includes Superdry, Fred Perry, Levi’s, Diesel and G-Star.

Andreas Feldenkirchen, the owner of the Feldenkirchen shops in Hamburg, said, “Denim for the next season will all be about authentic brands, treatments and washes. A clear trend for me is raw-unwashed as this is the origin [of denim].…If we buy heavy washes, they need to look just as if you had worn them in yourself with no artificial bleaching.”

Even at higher price points, value remains important to his customers. “Prices in our store are 149 to 700 euros [$194 to $912 at current exchange] with the core price bracket at 200 to 300 euros [$260 to $391]. Brands we are looking at are Edwin, Nudie, Big John, Double RL, Jean Shop, Rising Sun, 3x1, Levis Vintage.”

At Premium, Norihiro Hakamata, international sales director of Kuro Denim, commented, “We started with denim but we have a lot of requests for chinos, which we are introducing this season.” Gregor Jaspers, buyer for Maison de Bonneterie in Amsterdam, praised Kuro’s “amazing fit and lots of washes that our customers want.”

A spokesman for California’s Current/Elliott, also at Premium, said that the company’s printed jeans sold well, as did jeans in neon colors.

James Holder, brand and designer director for British brand Superdry, explained that its customer “wants constant newness, plus amazing quality and accessible prices.” To address that demand, Superdry offered “Powdered Denim Slims,” which, according to Holder, “start with a pair of dark blue jeans that are then bleached and painted over in different colors.”

Superdry plans to open its largest store to date, including a spa and beauty salon, in London in May. The Wind Cheat Jacket, which has performed well despite a lack of cold weather, is being extended for 2012 with new colors and more tapered women’s models.

Alternatives to jeans and denim continued to play an important role for many of the denim brands represented. Amsterdam’s Denham hosted a private gala outside Bread & Butter to launch its new women’s collection, replete with a number of standout jacket models, such as one of cavalry cotton twill.

Italy’s woes were on the minds of many at the shows, given its prevalence in the denim and streetwear markets, although Bread & Butter organizers considered the dip in buyers from Italy and two other troubled European markets, Spain and Greece, within the range of their expectations.

“Business is pretty much the same as last season,” said Christiano Sturniolo, marketing and communications director for Liu Jo, an Italian resource specializing in skinny jeans. “From ‘bunga-bunga’ [the parties associated with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi] to Costa Concordia, this has been the worst year for Italy, and I’m very sad to see Italy portrayed in such a way.”

Though Liu Jo’s overall sales have been growing, Sturniolo believes the situation is difficult, especially in the brand’s home — and largest — market. “Our figures are good: 250 million euros [$330.3 million] in sales, 10 million more than last year, but we think that Italy will affect the consumer’s approach to the market and we are a little scared about this. Still, China looks very good for us. We plan to open five more stores there this year.”

The technicians at denim fabric specialist ISKO used the latest in technology to collaborate with Haikure, a brand focused on sustainability. There were also denim collaborations with Dondup and Aeronautica Militare focusing on treatments geared for low environmental impact.

Guess Inc. fielded large numbers of retailers at both trade shows, and Paul Marciano, vice chairman and chief executive officer, said he was pleased to be showing at both Premium and Bread & Butter. “We continue to expand our business for the simple reason that we have our own retail operation, being in a total of 90 countries around the globe. We have always been in the business of jeans but denim is only 40 percent of our business,” he pointed out. “We started with Guess Jeans, but now we are a lifestyle brand.”

Nonetheless, Marciano said that the business of denim is not retracting but expanding. From a price standpoint, “We have been sitting in the middle [of the market] for 30 years and we are comfortable here. Unfortunately, in the U.S. we saw massive markdowns [during holiday] that we have never seen before. This affects the brand and affects the business and we see Europe as a challenge, especially Italy, which is more affected than any other country. They are facing the reality of the credit crisis and buyers are uncertain.”

Still, Rino Castiglione, vice president of the jeanswear division at Guess, added, “Even with the euro crisis, we have grown 15 percent this season.”

“This was a tough winter,” said Petri Herpio, chairman of Helsinki’s MPH Retail, which carries brands such as Guess, Calvin Klein, Liu Jo and Nike. “We were stuck with product. It was dark and wet, and people stayed home; they did not want to go out.”

However, this provided opportunity online: “In the end our e-commerce almost doubled from last year,” he reported.

Hauke Petersen, buyer for Germany’s ID Sievers, faced similar challenges: “Last season was difficult because we had no winter as we hoped for. We were stuck with knits that were too thick and some down jackets, but denim and chinos were OK. This season we are looking for new trends, but they’ve been difficult to find because many brands are showing the same as last season.”

Ahmed Dahbour of Salam — a chain of luxury department stores with locations in Qatar; Dubai; Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, and Muscat, Oman — shopped Bread & Butter “looking for strong denim brands for our new Salam Denim concept shop. We are a 60-year-old retail business and we want to satisfy our younger, third generation. We already have brands such as Hugo Boss, Seven For All Mankind, Citizen and Diesel, and we are trying to keep a balance of EU and U.S. brands.”

Frank Belochi, senior vice president of Tommy Hilfiger, noted that fiscal uncertainty had made his firm’s presence at the show more important. “The economically challenging situation makes people cautious and they want to come in and talk in person to get [a sense of] security, to share their concerns and their ideas,” he said. “We are well perceived as a sportswear brand in a denim environment and buyers are looking for safety.”

He also noticed a more open attitude among buyers about sustainability. “People are more receptive to buy a product that is helping the environment. We’re not really talking about this yet, but we are trying to get there by using less chemicals and less water,” he said.

Despite what he perceived as a lack of American buyers, Gordon Giers, co-managing director of Hamburg-based denim and sportswear brand Closed, felt Bread & Butter “was really, really good,” with his space at the show “under siege” on its first two days.

Although he characterized denim as “doing well,” with dark denim making a comeback and colored versions of the fabric performing, he sensed a shift away from chinos, which “have become a bit old, and the update is wool. One new development is garment-dyed wool, for both men and women.

“I think fall will be good, and winter fine,” he said, “but these days, you have to work for your money.”

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